Rougerie backs ref on late call-off

FRANCE centre Aurelien Rougerie believes referee Dave Pearson was right to postpone Saturday night’s Six Nations clash with Ireland.

The Clermont Auvergne star backed Pearson’s decision to make player safety the priority, even if it was a very late call by the English official. Rougerie said: “We were ready to go – everyone wanted to play, everyone was ready to play, nobody thought we might not be going out onto the pitch. Maybe it made sense to cancel it at that point, before it started. It would be wrong to take the risk of playing just until half time and they would cancel the match then – as happened with one of the women’s games last week (Ireland’s clash with Wales).”

Rougerie spoke of the confusion that surrounded the build-up to the game that never was but accepted players had no choice but to accept the final decision to postpone.

“We came to the ground and were told the game was on and then news started to filter back there was to be another inspection and it was quite confusing until quite near the time we were to go out that the match was cancelled. In this situation, this is the way it is because we are professionals and we have to just follow and accept them (officials). I am not here to judge because I am a player and I have to follow rules.

“The pitch was frozen in some parts but not all of it.”

The confusion will continue until the Six Nations Committee decides on a new date for the fixture, with Rougerie not relishing a continued stay at the French team’s training base outside Paris at Marcoussis, which the players nickname “Marcatraz”, if the game is rescheduled for this weekend.

“I don’t know whether I am to go back to Clermont and wait or whether we are all staying at Marcoussis,” he added with a sigh.

“It is all still very much up in the air.”

Rougerie’s boss, France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre, who would prefer a quick return to Stade de France on Sunday, said parts of the pitch had become dangerous.

“Of course it’s disappointing, and we’re very, very sorry,” Saint-Andre said. “The stadium was full, people had come from far away, also the Irish supporters; during the week we worked on our plans and our structures and made our preparations, and the players were ready. They did their warm up and everything but we have to accept the decision of the referee.”

Saint-Andre said he and Ireland head coach Declan Kidney had been asked by referee Pearson for their opinions on the playability of the pitch but both men had declined to offer them as they had no say in the final decision.

“He asked me and Declan for the decision but we didn’t give it because at the end of the day, according to the rules of the Six Nations, it must be made by the referee. I respect the decision of the referee. We need to accept it. It’s very sad for the people because the players were ready but the supporters need to accept the decision of the referee.”

The fallout from the incident dominated the French press yesterday.

“Why this fiasco?” exclaimed respected newspaper Sudouest.

“Imagine how an international game and not a Federal 3 (French 5th division) game could be postponed just a few minutes before kick-off due to a frozen pitch? Who would have dared to think it at a time when the word ‘professionalism’ is constantly coupled with rugby?”

If the last minute postponement was bad, the manner in which the press and public relations were managed afterwards made things even worse, with L’Equipe describing the press conference as “North Korean-inspired” because of the no-show from match referee Dave Pearson and the “prohibition” on asking any questions.

There was, however, much surprise to learn that a stadium as modern as the Stade de France did not have under soil heating.

Former France scrum-half and current Montpellier coach Fabien Galthie clearly laid the blame at the door of the stadium authorities.

“This cancellation is clearly the fault of the Stade de France,” he wrote in his L’Equipe column. “Why do we not have a ground capable of hosting games when it is cold? It’s shocking.”

Next up was France Televisions, the state owned public service broadcaster who have the rights for the Six Nations in France. They said that they had offered to move the game to a slot on Saturday afternoon and blamed the Six Nations organising committee for refusing to make the change.

“I suggested to have this (a 3pm kick-off) as a back up,” said DanielBilalian, Director of Sport at France Televisions.

“But I had no discussions with anyone from the Six Nations organising committee.”

However Camou said the FFR had blocked any idea that the game would be changed to Saturday afternoon on the basis of the hordes of travellers who would have been inconvenienced by any such move.

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